In honor of Coming Out Week, the St. Olaf student organization GLOW! Gay, Lesbian or Whatever! brought nationally-recognized slam poet Kit Yan to campus on Wednesday, Oct. 9, drawing a large crowd to a performance centered around transgender identity, queer relationships and tortoise sex.
Yan’s performance compellingly navigated between the bittersweet and the blithe, the melancholy and the merry. Love ballads accompanied by a ukulele were presented in stark contrast to erotic and graphically sexual verse, drawing on Yan’s experiences as a person of transgender orientation. Audience members laughed with Yan as he described how his pet tortoises enabled his mother to come to terms with his queerness “I mean, I don’t know their label, but they do the tortoise all day long”, and mourned with Yan as he described his first major breakup with his girlfriend at the time, but also with his gender
“The mirror will crack if I ask her to come home,” he said.
Though born in Hawaii, Yan has spent a significant part of the past few years in Brooklyn, a scene which has radically influenced some of his poetry. Throughout his performance, Yan referenced his upbringing and memories of home and contrasted these experiences with the larger world he met when he arrived on the U.S. mainland to attend college. It was at college that Yan came to terms with his gender orientation and discovered slam poetry as a means to express the emotional turbulence he was encountering.
“Do I feel a relevant pressure to slam about being trans?” Yan pondered. “I suppose I do. I am constantly thinking about under what situations and conditions we tell our stories and to whom. Poetry is that way for me.”
Yan is a queer, transgender and Asian-American slam poet whose work has been featured in “Flicker and Spark” and “Troubling the Line,” two new queer and transgender poetry anthologies. He also has a forthcoming book with Transgenre Press. His poetry has been reviewed by New York Magazine, among other notable publications, and has been taught in classrooms all over the world. He has performed on the San Francisco Pride mainstage, the National Equality March stage and even at the Department of Justice.
Yan’s presence on campus was made possible through Campus Pride, which awarded Katie Barnes ’13, a previous GLOW! coordinator, the Voice in Action National Leadership Award last spring. Part of Barnes’s award was an opportunity for an all-expenses-paid appearance by a speaker of her choice on campus this fall.
GLOW!’s celebration of Coming Out Week has also included a wide variety of other events on campus, ranging from the light-hearted to the serious. On Tuesday night, students were invited to a panel with fellow Oles about coming out at St. Olaf and in their personal lives. Preceding Yan’s performance on Wednesday, congressional candidate Paula Overby the first openly transgender candidate from Minnesota to run for Congress met with students to discuss her upcoming political campaign and life experiences. And on Thursday, Oct. 10, the organization hosted a party in Buntrock Commons during community time, offering cupcakes and photo opportunities to all St. Olaf students.
Finally, in a format similar to the popular PostSecret website, anonymous secrets submitted by students were posted in the hallway between Boe Chapel and Buntrock Commons, offering students a rare glimpse into the inner thoughts that burden fellow Oles.